a Better way to read the Bible?

I am out of town this week and am reblogging some favorite stuff from recent weeks while I spend time with my family at the happiest place on earth! See you on the other side.


Today’s installment comes to you from Bo Sanders and was originally posted on 3/9/12.


A better way to read (read) Admittedly, this is not how I learned to read the Bible. In fact, I’m not sure that I learned to read the Bible at all. I just read it. I read it like you would read anything else. I just read it and took it at it’s word. It was there in black and white.

However, there were some things about the Bible that made it different than everything else I read: it didn’t have a single author (or even a stated author for many of it’s ‘books’), it was written thousands of years earlier, and it was not written in English – it was translated.

None of that is a problem necessarily. I still got the main point of the book (I think) and was able to pick up on most of its important themes (at least they were important to me). In fact, the more general my reading and the more generic my intent, the better that way of reading works.

The problem comes when you want to either make bigger and broader claims bases on Scripture or the more narrow and specific you want to get.

For instance, if you want to make a big claim about how the universe works or the fate of every human soul throughout history, you end up doing something with the text that it may be unsustainable under further review. If you want to get specific and say that this word in the original text says ____ and therefore women can not ______ , or ministers must ______ … using the text that way may become an issue.

I put forward an idea in my previous post that gives us permission to update, revisit, and re-engage the texts of scripture based on two things:

  1. we do not have a pre-modern mind and therefore have a very different relationship to story, text, idea, and experience than people of the pre-modern world.
  2. we live in a world that is so different, has changed so much, has gone through such radical and traumatic experiences that we would be blind not to acknowledge and account for it.

In my clearest language: I am advocating for a more sophisticated way of reading the Bible and to move away from a simple reading. Like I said at the beginning, I was not taught to read the Bible, I just read it – or so I thought. I had to get rid of the illusion that I was ONLY reading. It is a simply awakening and only requires one thing to get started! You must admit that you are translating when you read. You are not simply reading , you are doing something else – even if it subconsciously  or unknowingly. There is a hermeneutic (way of reading) that is being employed by all of us and we have to come to terms with the idea that our way of reading is not (and can not be) the same way of reading as the ancients did.

Here are four advantages to awakening to the presence of interpretation:

  • We can read the creation stories in Genesis and call God ‘creator’ without discounting or disregarding contemporary science (and especially emergence theory).
  • We can take the story of Jonah or Job and recognize that they are more like movie scripts or plays than they are newspaper reports and not get bogged down in the details.
  • We can believe that the incarnate Jesus calmed a storm (the miraculous) without making the leap that God sent Hurricane Irene or directs tornadoes.
  • We can see that the Book of Revelation is a political commentary (prophetic imagination) about the first century C.E.  and not an exacting prediction about the end of the world.

I believe this to be a better way to read the Bible. It is both more authentic to the text and has more integrity in the world that has developed since the text was written. We are not limited to only the physics and metaphysics of antiquity but we also are not abandoning the whole project and going out on our own. We are providing continuity with the historic trajectory and honoring the tradition.

You can call this a ‘new kind of christianity‘ if you want, or something else, but it is a way a being in the world that honors Christ and engages the world as it actually is. It allows us to believe in miracles without being superstitiously ‘super’natural.  It lets us listen to the wisdom of the ancients without being stuck to their ‘three-tiered’ universe. It provides a dynamic engagement between the classic themes and the world we find ourselves in.

4 thoughts on “a Better way to read the Bible?

  1. DeeAnna says:

    I whole-heartedly agree that we all “interpret” the Bible as we’re reading. It’s why I’m never done learning or reading. I believe that the only correct interpretation of Scripture comes from Scripture itself. I think there is a reason it was written in the time frame it was and by the people it was. I think it’s “ancient-ness” (pre-modernism, whatever) is a thing to be respected and I seek to understand it through the lens of history. I have yet to find anything that disagrees with my “modern” sensibilities, except where *I* am in the wrong. Science and the Bible don’t disagree. Neither do math, morality, or anything else. I don’t know, I tend to think that those who focus on how “modern” or “post-modern” thinkers think miss a lot. Especially the fact that there really truly is nothing new under the sun (thank you, Solomon). Even with all the “information” we have today, there are still no new things that weren’t around waaaaaaay back in Jesus’ day. We could have a fun challenge with trying to come up with even one. 🙂

    • DeeAnna says:

      Oh, by “new things” I mean… Well, the only word I can think of to clarify is “heresies.” But perhaps “schools of theological thought” would be less offensive.

  2. DeeAnna, I appreciate you passion but I think you may be missing some key points…

    When Solomon said that famous line about “nothing new” he was having a bad day and being quite snark. It’s not binding truth on all subjects. If it was we would have to explain how after that, God did a “new thing” (Isaiah 43:19). You just can’t read the Bible like that.

    Secondly, we have all sorts of things that are new: microscopes and telescopes to name two. From simple things like the world not being flat to big things like the heliocentric universe , there are all sorts of implications. For instance, we don’t think that Heaven is actually ‘up’ or that hell is literally ‘down’. I could go on-and-on but to simply dismiss all the difference, progression, adaptation and reformation in our understanding since the Bible was written is to gloss over some really essential stuff (Just ask Galileo and Copernicus).

    From there we could get into the Greek understanding of metaphysics that governed the construction of the Creeds, the difference between epilepsy and demon-possession and a whole bunch of other things that different than they were in the pre-modern mind.

    Does that make sense? or have I misunderstood you intention? sincerely -Bo Sanders

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